The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) sets forth the general requirement that all employers pay employees minimum wage and overtime pay. Under a narrow exception to this rule, an unpaid internship can comply with the FLSA if the student intern qualifies as a “trainee.” In other words, employers don’t need to compensate students who qualify for this unpaid category. To determine whether an individual is a “trainee,” the Department of Labor considers these six factors:
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion, its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
Although more than half of college students today have participated in unpaid internship programs, these programs tend to violate the FLSA when employers use internships as a way to complete work tasks and not educational experiences for the student. Bottom line-the more an unpaid internship resembles an educational program for the benefit of the intern, the more likely it is to qualify under the FLSA’s narrow exception.
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